Meet Rick Jones, Research & Development Advisor, as he shares chemistry with our young and curious citizens.
The series presents scientists and business professionals who contribute to the development, progress and implementation of the innovative chemistry products of Albemarle and the Earthwise Initiative.
How do young students become interested in chemistry and science?
For some, it may start with a classroom visit from Mr. Chemist, also known as Richard (Rick) Jones, Research & Development Advisor at Albemarle, who has played a special role in grooming the chemists and scientists of the future.
Beginning in 1992, spurred on by an initiative of the American Chemical Society, Rick became interested in teaching chemistry to young students to spark their interest in science.
Initially, he would ask students about the impact of science on everyday life. “For young elementary school children, I would talk about trees and how chemical processes transformed them into paper and then into books. Or I’d explore how oil becomes processed into plastic and that turns into action figures,” he remembered.
Instead of seeing science as “too hard,” Rick spoke about common sense and the need to work hard and apply thinking and stick to it skills. “I would remind the students that new products are always being invented and that even these cool ideas could become better through science.”
One very popular experiment involves marshmallows placed in a glass vacuum tube to demonstrate the relationship between air pressure and volume. When the vacuum tube is sealed shut, Rick utilizes a vacuum pump and withdraws the air from the glass tube. This permits the air bubbles in the marshmallows to expand, and the marshmallow becomes as big as a tennis ball, for a few seconds. When the vacuum is turned off and air refills the glass tube, the force of the atmospheric pressure causes all the air bubbles to deflate and the marshmallow shrivels down to a miniature size.
Students love to watch the reaction of a carbonated soda, like Sprite or Diet Coke, with a Mentos candy, which is attached to a wire coat hanger and then pushed into a two-liter soda bottle. The dissolved carbon dioxide (CO2) in the soda reacts to the pock-marked surface of the candy chemically; each bump on the candy provides a site for the dissolved carbon dioxide to attach itself and then escape from the liquid soda. The reaction releases all the dissolved carbon dioxide at once. As the CO2 seeks to separate from the liquid soda, it surges through the bottle, causing a geyser-like eruption of at least 15 feet.
Through the years, Rick also trained more than 75 Albemarle employees to perform these demonstrations and workshops.
Over a ten-year period, from 1992 to 2002, Rick calculates that he and his colleagues conducted about 500 science shows for 18,000 students in local schools as part of a national community outreach program, and the number continues to grow.
In addition, Rick was involved in Albemarle’s participation at local and regional science fairs, where Albemarle would host a booth. The science demonstrations were performed for nearly 10,000 students over the years.
Rick’s enthusiasm for inspiring young scientists has never wavered.
“To this day, I meet students of all ages who recognize me from a single appearance in their classroom, which may have been last month or 10 years ago. It’s a thrill to know I’ve had an impact on a young person’s interest in chemistry and science,” he marveled.
Left: Albemarle’s President Luke Kissam, Center: Rick Jones, Right: Albemarle’s COO John Steitz